French composer Claude Debussy described music as “the space between the notes.” Michael Khodabakhsh, Taylor Godsey and Andy Coppinger — the minds and hands behind Oklahoma City indie-folk act Idabel — seem to understand this well.
So much modern, popular folk has devolved into a series of well-placed “heys.” But Idabel stands undaunted by the negative space those hollers so often occupy, a group founded on nuanced musicianship and fearless editing where only the most necessary notes live on.
“We are turned on by understated and subtle things,” Godsey said of Idabel’s less-is-more philosophy. “It’s nice to pull back. You don’t always have to have the punch line on your sleeve all the time.”
The trio came to know each other through a short musical fling banjoist Godsey and drummer Coppinger had with Michael’s older brother, but the chemistry between those two and the younger singer-guitarist Khodabakhsh was stronger and more enduring. They bonded over a love of Califone and good ol’ Delta blues, along with fractions of Mogwai, Modest Mouse and Tom Waits.
There was nary a moment to explore the spark, however, and their paths split apart as school and work dragged them across the country. But the three kept in steady contact; Khodabakhsh would send the first drafts of music he was working on to the other two, which proved to be the foundation for the trio’s very first songs.
As college wrapped up and jobs led them back to Oklahoma, the three came together under the same roof in the summer of 2012 and Idabel was finally born.
“I’d been waiting a long time,” Coppinger said. “I’m excited to see what comes, which is funny, because it’s only just begun.”
Maybe because the opportunity had eluded them for so long, Idabel dived headfirst into practice five nights a week, steadily refining its earliest songs with methodical and tireless precision.
The group’s first two singles, “Leaping in the Water” and “Sweet Talker,” were unveiled via YouTube last spring, each sharing the best qualities with Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes while managing to sound unique to Idabel even still.
“I really feel like it comes out organically,” Khodabakhsh said. “We almost can’t take credit for anything that happens.”
Godsey, meanwhile, can’t quite pin down the band’s predecessors, and he sees that as a plus.
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell what influences seep into your music,” he said. “But I don’t know that it’s a good thing to be able to recognize where any part comes from anyway.”
An EP has been in the works and on the verge of coming out for a year now, and the five-song effort is just awaiting some mixing and mastering.
It has been an arduous process for the self-professed perfectionists, but the recorded material — and the band itself — has been a long time coming. Yet the three are content to wait until everything is totally right. It wouldn’t be Idabel any other way.
“In that process, you become one. It’s a marriage,” Coppinger said. “It takes a year or so to get a sound. For sure, we have that now.”